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Students Engage with the Art of Resistance on MLK Day
Neha Jampala ’23 & Clara Chae ’23 Associate Editors
February 21, 2021

On Monday, January 18th, Deerfield honored the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. through the powerful lens of the arts — a symbol of resistance and celebration. Students followed a special schedule which marked the first day of in-person classes.

 During the first period, students watched the documentary, Soundtrack for Revolution. Then they were addressed by Dr. Arthur Flowers during the second period and shared reflections afterwards. 

In the afternoon, students, faculty, and alumni ran fourteen optional but highly encouraged workshops. Members of the community were able to choose one to attend in order to learn about specific MLK Day-related topics. Workshops ranged from exploring street art and finding joy through dance (both led by professional guests) to discussing the importance of diversity in student leadership, examining colorism, and practicing the art of forgiveness.

Shastri Akella, English Teacher and member of the Inclusion Committee, organized this year’s MLK Day programming alongside the Office of Inclusion. Dr. Akella planned the day in a way “that would commemorate Dr. King in a way that would be meaningful to students.” He added, “We wanted students to experience the day together, as a community, rather than sitting in our rooms.”  

Building on this idea, Dr. Akella invited Dr. Flowers to address the Deerfield community. He previously worked with Dr. Flowers and experienced the profoundly moving impact his performances have on audiences; something which “was unlike anything [he] had witnessed.” Dr. Akella recounted, “He reduced a hall full of grown-ups to tears.  It was not a ‘here’s the takeaway’ sort of a performance, but rather the sort that made you feel alive to a particular subject or experience in a way that I think is necessary for our times, for it broadens the scope of your empathy for that subject, for those experiences.”

Hannah McKie ’22, one of the students who moderated Q&A at the end of Dr. Flowers’ performance, appreciated how, “His performance was very unstructured and therefore powerful on its own, as it didn’t feel like an agenda.”

Courtesy of University of North Carolina Asheville

Students noticed a significant contrast between the MLK Day programming this year compared to past years. McKie particularly enjoyed the added context given about the civil rights movement that the school incorporated this year. She felt that Dr. King’s message had gotten lost in past years’ events and that the activities didn’t always enable students to have productive discussions. 

On the other hand, Rachel Mark’ 23 shared that the periods sometimes felt tiring. “I liked what we did this year, but it was just a lot of sitting down and watching things,” Mark said. “With the workshops on Zoom – which they obviously had to be – people got pretty tired and lost focus by the end of the day.” 

Subha Sivakumar ’21 co-led the workshop “Women and Their Roles in the Arts” with the Women’s Alliance. She shared her main takeaway: “there are so many ways to tell your story or share your message, and there’s nothing stopping you from using one of those methods or even creating your own.”

Echoing Sivakumar’s thoughtful reflection, McKie said, “I think the whole day was really inspiring and was a step in the right direction for the whole campus.” She emphasized, “this is something that we should make sure to hold the school accountable for so they will continue to do a good job.”

Lucy Guo ’23, a new student from Canada, shared the differences between her old school’s commemoration of MLK Day compared to Deerfield. “At my previous school, MLK Day was simply celebrated with a school assembly, and students did not continue the valuable conversations about Dr. King outside of that event,” she said. “I personally felt that this was because a safe environment was not provided for students to discuss with peers about such serious and considerably sensitive topics. But after experiencing Deerfield’s honoring Dr. King, I truly felt that I could voice mine and hear others’ opinions without being judged.” 

Wishing to continue the success of this year’s MLK Day celebration, Dr. Akella listed three takeaways that he wishes to apply to future years. He would like to continue “bringing in speakers or artists like Arthur Flowers.” He also wants to maintain “a balance of student, faculty and external speaker-led workshops across a spectrum of topics.” Lastly, he emphasized the importance of having “a unifying theme, as it runs like a thread that holds together various activities of the day.”

This year’s MLK Day was crafted and planned with great effort and enthusiasm, which students reciprocated. It offered a learning experience for many and was well-fitting to the necessity of acknowledging the spirit of inclusion in light of recent events. Dr. Akella shared, “MLK Day serves an important moment, to the beginning of each year, to pause and reflect on how DA as a collective and each one of us as individuals can make the spaces we engage with inclusive and invigorating, intellectually and emotionally, for everyone.”